Returning to school can be a trigger for many children, teens and even parents. The flexibility of the summer gives way to the rigidity of the school year and with it comes an increase in anxiety, acute and chronic stress and depression. Whether your child struggles with a clinical diagnosis or not does not take away from the impact the beginning of an academic year can have on a child’s thoughts, feelings and behavior. Make sure your child gets off to a good start when the school bell rings. Try out my ideas below:
- Inform the teacher of any concerns you may have about your child’s development and functioning right away. Let the teacher know if your kiddo struggles with social anxiety, testing anxiety, ADHD or depression. Follow up your in-person discussion with an email reviewing your conversation while attaching contact information so the teacher can easily communicate with you. This helps to ensure your child’s teacher will openly communicate with you about what behavior he/she may be seeing in the classroom.
- Meet with the school counselor. I am not necessarily referring to a school therapist but if your school is fortunate enough to have one all the better. Introduce yourself to the counselor and give them a small amount of background information. No details are needed as you want to walk the fine line of privacy for the sake of your child. Making connections with a system of support before there is a problem is always a wise decision. They may be able to help you ward off an issue before it begins to snowball. If the counselor and school staff is familiar with you and your family, they are more likely to take note of your child’s day-to-day experience and that is always a plus when you have concerns for your student.
- Emphasize unscheduled time. Kids need time to decompress just like adults. After attempting to be on their best behavior all day at school; most children are wound and need a release. Try the local park for 15 to 30 minutes right after school to get your children, young and old, moving. Exercise gets out excess energy, releases feel-good hormones, decreases stress and increases feelings of relaxation. All is needed after a long and tiring day at school especially in the first quarter. Also, be sure to keep scheduled afterschool activities to a minimum. Being scheduled from the moment children wake until the moment they go to sleep is a sure-fire recipe for disaster. Fellow blogger and natural parenting advocate, Tracy Gillett of Raised Good, explains why simplifying childhood may protect against mental health issues. Read her article here.
- Clean up your kid’s diet. Serve a balanced breakfast free of refined sugar and pack a healthy lunch. It isn’t up to you as a parent to make your child eat his/her lunch at school but it is up to you to provide healthy options. Focus on healthy protein, fat and fiber. Keep it colorful. If you are running short on time; get healthier packaged foods such as individual packets of hummus, guacamole, or nut butter with a fruit and a veggie and don’t forget water. Part of stress reduction is helping the body respond to stress in a healthy manner. You are less likely to be moody, tearful, and irritable if you maintain healthy blood sugar levels throughout the day.
- Get your sleep routine in check. Most children and teens need 9-12 hours of sleep a night. Sleep impacts brain health and overall functioning. Help your child establish a healthy sleep routine by powering down electronics 1 to 2 hours before bedtime. Ensure you go to bed and wake up the same time everyday to help out your child’s natural circadian rhythm. And make the routine calming and soothing by using the time before bed to connect. Discuss the day, cuddle and read a story. Whatever works for your family to help your little and big ones wind down. Healthy sleeping patterns are needed for life so go ahead and give them a good start now.
In closing, teaching children healthy coping skills is continually beneficial. It’s like the gift that keeps on giving. We can never live stress free lives but we can give them the tools to learn how to handle life when *it* hits the fan. So power up your communication with school staff, power down too many scheduled activities, feed your kid’s healthy food and encourage a sleep routine that helps their brain rest and restore itself for a new day. And don’t forget to do the same for yourself!